With the Zimbabwean economy continuing to die, and poverty and unemployment rates reaching catastrophic levels, jobless university and other college graduates are the latest disaffected constituency planning their own mega demonstration against the government — with a massive “million-man” march scheduled for early next month.
The planned demo comes as Harare also braces for up to 20 000 protesters this Saturday when angry women march against grinding poverty and hunger in the country which they blame on Mugabe and Zanu PF’s failed policies of the past 36 years.
The spokesperson of the Zimbabwe Coalition of Unemployed Graduates (ZCUG), Samuel Meso, told the Daily News yesterday that the planned march was meant to crank up the pressure on President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF to provide them with the 2,2 million jobs that they promised the nation ahead of the hotly-disputed 2013 elections.
Meso spoke as anger against Mugabe and the government has been building over the past few months, as fed up Zimbabweans agitate against the worsening rot in the country — manifested by rising poverty and jobless levels, economic decay, endemic corruption and abject failure by the government to fulfil even its most basic obligations.
And instead of creating just a fraction of its promised 2,2 million jobs, Mugabe’s Zanu PF administration has disastrously presided over the closure of thousands of companies and loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs over the past three years alone — leading the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to estimate that not more than 10 percent of the country’s employable population is formally employed.
Consequently, even university graduates with masters degrees have found themselves on the ever increasing jobless scrap heap, with many of them now being forced to eke out a difficult existence as street vendors selling sweets and other trinkets in urban areas — an invidious situation that has now triggered the idea of their own version of the “million-man march in our graduation gowns which are currently gathering dust at home”.
“Firstly, we want the issue of unemployment to be solved. When this government was campaigning, they promised us jobs, in fact 2,2 million jobs. They are still in power and have not delivered on this promise.
“The second issue is corruption where we have our head of State leading thieves. The situation has become so bad that corruption has become institutionalised in the country. The third thing is injustice. You can’t tell me that 36 years after independence we are still struggling with civil rights, as government is still using colonial tactics to deal with legitimate concerns.
“The Constitution is clear in section 59, about freedoms and that people are free to demonstrate and petition government. It’s the citizens who should hold the government accountable because they are the ones who put those people in power,” Meso thundered.
“We are graduates and we are not just complaining. We also want to participate in the economy and offer solutions to current problems. We are expecting more than a million people to join the march.
“When you look at the number of people who lost their jobs in recent years, they number more than 700 000. And then there are the tens of thousands of graduates who are churned out by our universities each year,” he added.
We will plan for the march properly so that everyone comes out without fear of being brutalised by the police. We will notify the police in time and we are planning the demonstration for the first week of August,” Meso said.
Besides the scores of technical colleges and other training institutions scattered around the country, Zimbabwe now boasts of more than a dozen universities, all of them churning out tens of thousands of graduates each year, most of whom are capped by Mugabe himself who is the chancellor of all State universities.
Sadly, almost all of these graduates, unless they join the country’s large Diaspora community, have a slim chance of finding employment in Zimbabwe. And because of the country’s dire economic condition, it is also very difficult for them to start their own businesses.
Some of the universities in the country include Africa University, Bindura University of Science Education, Catholic University in Zimbabwe, Chinhoyi University of Technology, Great Zimbabwe University, Harare Institute of Technology, Lupane State University, Midlands State University, National University of Science and Technology, Reformed Church University, Solusi University, University of Zimbabwe, Women’s University in Africa, Ezekiel Guti University and Zimbabwe Open University.
The demonstration by the graduates comes at a time of rising political tension and growing incidences of mass action and violent riots in the country, as Zimbabweans demand better living conditions.
Just last week, women took to the streets in Bulawayo in their thousands, beating pots in protest against hunger and poverty. A few days before that, commuter omnibus drivers and touts also rioted in anger against “revenue” police roadblocks.
Protests have also erupted in Beitbridge, as traders showed their unhappiness with the government’s recent decision to ban the importation of basic goods under the open general licence.
In addition, social media has also increasingly become an important organising platform for Zimbabweans agitating for change in the country.
A social media movement dubbed #ThisFlag, which has been led by Pastor Evan Mawarire, has been described as one of the biggest civic movements in post-independent Zimbabwe.
In what has been dubbed a long winter of discontent, Mugabe’s government has for the second month running, failed to pay soldiers and the police on time, amid confusion as to when this will happen, as State coffers continue to dip in the face of the dying economy.
Analysts say Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s watch has slid from being a regional breadbasket to a much-derided basket case, to the extent of failing to feed its people.
For the first time since January 1998 when food riots left seven people dead, the country experienced violent riots a fortnight ago as a result of poor policies and rising poverty levels.